Lancers seventh-eighth graders player, Gerald Hood, encouraging teammates, Fritz Schuster, and, Nathan Gibson, to keep bear crawling to the finish in a practice in high heat at Kennedy High School.
Junior Lancers feed into JFK
By Ed Shepherd
Here come the Lancers!
No, not those Lancers, if one's thinking of the Kennedy High School kind. But, if one's thinking of the football variety, then, that's right, because the Puget Sound Lancers, with ages ranging from six years old to 14, are coming to a football field near you as their regular season starts Sept. 6. with its home games at Highline Memorial.
Official schedule is to be announced for the Nisqually Junior Football League.
Used to be four divisions in the NJFL, starting with the youngest, Pee Wees, and going to the oldest, Seniors, but, not anymore. The Lancers' four teams are labeled: first and second graders, third and fourth graders, fifth and sixth graders, and seventh and eighth graders.
"We are the official feeder program for Kennedy High School," said Leon Curenton, president of the Lancers, whose four divisions open up before the season's opener with, first, a scrimmage against the Pacific Highway Chargers at Chief Sealth High School this weekend, with different grades playing each day, Saturday and Sunday.
Curenton, who assists head coach JJ Cooper, explained that the fifth and sixth graders of this division made it to the playoffs, losing, 6-0, to the Kent Conks, which is the feeder program for the Kentwood Conquerors.
"We have the whole team back from last year," said Cooper. "Everyone is projecting us to be there in the end. But, we aren't. We know we got work to do."
A couple players that should help out this elementary school grade of players are Leonard Lowe Jr. and Malakai Samuelo.
"They talk a lot on the field to get their players to know what's going on," said Curenton.
"Leonard is a hard runner, good tackler," said Curenton. "Malakai is an up and comer, an improved player."
Samuelo is ready for this season, to improve over last.
"This year we are more competitive, working harder," said Samuelo, who will play on the offensive and defensive lines, both protecting the quarterback and sacking the quarterback, as well as opening up holes for the running backs.
Running back Leonard Lowe Jr. hopes to blow through those gaps pushed open by the likes of Samuelo and the rest of the offensive line. And, he explained why the season went from bad to good last time around for the fifth and sixth graders, a team that Lowe played on.
"Coaching is better, and, if we all pitch in, I think, we will win a championship," said Lowe Jr. "We were more focused last year on running and not doing much hitting. We lost our first couple games. We started to work on everything, and, hitting, and started winning games."
Samuelo is thinking that this season can be quite good if the players play their part.
"I believe, our team believes we all have one part," said Samuelo. "We need to do that part, and, if we do that part, we will win games."
Some other key returners mentioned were quarterback Jayden Wingo, whom Curenton called a "good leader," and Ronald Davis, a running back.
"He's fast, an elusive runner, and plays safety for us, too," said Curenton.
Jayden McWilliams is another impact player.
"One of our anchors on the defensive and offensive lines," said Curenton, who also helps out with the Lancers High School program.
Jabez Tine, a quarterback, was mentioned along with a fullback, RJ Carver, who Curenton said is "a hard runner and great tackler."
The next division with a lot of chance for success is the seventh and eighth graders, coached by Curtis Arrington, who directed his team to the game before the championship, losing to the Puyallup Roughriders.
"We went 6-1 last season, we've been division champ two years in a row," said Arrington. "We are coming back with four returners only. Seventy-five percent of our players are seventh graders."
The goal this season remains the same, pretty much.
"We just want to make it to the playoffs," said Arrington.
The players were working hard in a recent practice, linebackers against linemen, running backs against centers, etc. Big versus small. And, some of the small guys, like Manny Ulukita, drove much bigger guys backward, even downward to the grass, or into the football pads. Arrington pushed his players to the extreme limits, even pushing one of the biggest lineman forward with his knee when he wasn't crouched low enough to start a tackling drill.
All the military style coaching and training to these kids didn't phase Arrington one bit or back him down from kids who were not trying their hardest. Those compromising on drills would be hearing, "Give me five down-ups," or more of that going from standing up to down to back up again for not doing things according to form, like wrapping up players right, or not driving the other player back, or pushing back the guy driving them until Arrington blew the whistle to stop the play.
"I love it," said Arrington, talking to a couple of the parents watching, moms likely of players. "I'm trying to make 'em mean. Trying to make it tough. Trying to make it rough."
And, the way Arrington did things was with toughness but also he explained to players he was hard on what they were doing wrong and how to get things done right, so, "down-ups" didn't have to be in their future so much.
And players did not complain one bit, they did their up-downs and got back in line and continued.
Players like Sekai Asosu, a tight end and defensive tackle, returner, didn't get the disciplined treatment that some of the others received.
"I know how physcial Sekai is," said Arrington. "Players like him, they got it. They know how to stay low."
Personally, of Asosu, Arrington said, "He's a leader, mean, and, he grew up a lot from last season."
That, too, is a catch phrase that Arriington repeated throughout a tackling drill and even beyond practicing it.
"Lowest man, what," Arrington would ask with a shout.
Players responded, "Wins!"
Fritz Schuster, a guard, was mentioned as a tough player by Arrington.
"He's just big and mean," he said.
And Jordan Maalae was noted when Arrington said, "He's progressed a lot from last season."
Gerald Hood, the team's quarterback, should not be left out.
"Gerald grew up a lot, too," said Arrington. "He's the smarts of the team."
Schuster, in a recent practice, was lagging in doing the bear crawl and one of the players came right up to him and clapped his hands and encouraged him to keep going and finish.
"Keep going, you can do this," the player said.
"That was Gerald," said Fritz, about 5-10 and 200 pounds. "That makes me get my energy up. That shows we work as a team. We work the hardest of all the teams."
And another player, one of the bigger linemen, clipped his toes on the top of the foot-high hitting pad in a drill, jumping over a few of the pads set up in a row, and fell over it.
Hood jumping right behind him stopped, he didn't just keep jumping over the pads, he stopped and helped the player get up over the bag and on his way.
"C'mon, you can do this, get up," said Hood.
The player was Nathan Gibson, and Gibson finished.
Hood encouraged Gibson at the same time as Schuster in bear crawl. Gibson finished that, too.
"Those guys are our leaders," said Arrington. "Vocal leaders and on defense."
Arrington just wants more kids to try and appreciate the discipline and positive flow of energy from playing football for the Lancers.
"We just want more kids to come, to help Kennedy," said Arrington, whose team could be up to 36 kids maximum on the roster. "We have 20-25 players."
The third and fourth graders division team followed their coach, Jamaal DeQuier, perfectly. And why not? The ramifications of not listening were not pleasant.
Doing push-ups, starting out a recent practice on the Kennedy baseball outfield, DeQuier saw players cheating the push-ups.
"The next person who hits the ground, we are starting over," said DeQuier.
And, guess what? No one hit the ground after that. And, that's 30-something kids on this team. The squad with the biggest turnout is under DeQuier, who is in his third year coaching this same age group for the Lancers.
"We're good. Tt's still early, but we're trying to get better every day," said DeQuier.
DeQuier mentioned that the team has a lot of first-time players and a couple veterans.
The team finished middle of the pack last season and before that DeQuier's team won the championship.
"Nisqually League champs," said DeQuier.
This team has 10 returners, mentioning a few of them.
DeQuier started with his quarterback, Mason Hayes.
"He's tough, smart, fast, and he's a leader," said DeQuier.
Vicka Fesili, a running back and linebacker, was said of by DeQuier, "He's a jack of all trades. He can do everything on our team. offense, defense, special teams. He has a high football IQ."
And Bubba Solis, a fullback and middle linebacker, is a young guy, but don't let that deceive anyone.
"He's a thumper. He's only eight, but he's a leader of our defense," said DeQuier. "He's a lead blocker. He just carries kids. He carried kids trying to tackle him 10 yards in a scrimmage. That's his trademark."
So, better than last year's .500 or so finish in the Nisqually?
"Yeah, we are going to compete," said DeQuier.
And the players think the same?
"It's going to be a pretty good season," said Hayes, who also was an all-star center fielder on the South Highline National 9-10s team.
"We won our scrimmage, 35-7," said Fesile, speaking of a practice kind of game against SWAC around the middle of August, with practices having started back in late July.
And what is liked about football?
"I like tackling," said Solis.
"I like sacking the quarterback," said Fesile, talking about his linebacker spot on the field, behind the defensive line. That is where Fesili lies in wait for running backs trying to pop through the holes of the defensive line, "We have lots of action."
And your coach?
"He's a good coach," said Hayes of DeQuier. "Doesn't yell."
"I think we are a disciplined team," said Solis.
And, on that note, we turn to the youngest division ,the first and second graders coached by Eric Solis. And Solis was a coach of only a sentence or two of words. And why not be? This age is where players are learning their left from their right and not much throwing, usually, goes on at this age. Just a lot of running the football and learning of the game so they are able to move up strong and smart to the third and fourth graders team.
"We are a work in progress," said Solis. "They got a lot of confidence and are comfortable, hitting, tackling, running the ball. All are good players. All work as a unit."
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